Benedict Cumberbatch has made his first foray into method acting, and it proved to be a filthy business.
In his latest film, The Power of the Dog, Cumberbatch plays a sadistic rancher in 1920s Montana who refuses on principle to take a bath. Accordingly, the actor went for six days at a time without washing.
At the request of Jane Campion, the film’s director, Cumberbatch remained in character for the entire 12-week shoot.
She told him to drop his natural tendency to “apologising and politeness” and channel the cruelty of his character, Phil Burbank.
“She introduced me to the crew as Phil and said, ‘You’ll meet Benedict at the end. Benedict’s really nice. Phil is Phil’. And it just gave me carte blanche to say, ‘No’. To be Phil, really. To stand in his shoes,” Cumberbatch told The Hollywood Reporter.
He dropped the character only when he left the set each night and returned to his wife and children.
Campion said she had deliberately cast against type in the role, but knew he was capable of carrying it off. She said: “Ben is obsessively sweet, but he ain’t no daffodil. He knows what he wants. I totally believed he could be as tough and cruel and mean as we needed him to be.”
Actor studies how to castrate a bull
The Power of the Dog was filmed in Campion’s native New Zealand, but Cumberbatch undertook preparatory work in Montana, in the US, where he was trained to rope, ride and steer cattle.
He also learned how to play the banjo and castrate a bull.
The film had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival to rave reviews and is one of Netflix’s main hopes for Oscar glory next year. It will be released in cinemas for a short window before being made available on the streaming service, allowing it to qualify for the Academy Awards.
The film is a study of toxic masculinity and Cumberbatch said he hoped the film would contribute to the discussion.
He said: “Whether that’s raising men as feminists, whether that’s understanding that there is a reason behind your emotions… Emotions need to be addressed and understood, rather than just put out there into the world in violence or language or an action that just permeates a toxic culture.”